Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grading "Glee" -- Season 02, Episode 16, "We write the hits now"

Some of these songs and performances were obviously not meant to be taken seriously, so I'm going to switch between letter grades and a simple point system where it's appropriate. More or less, if I wouldn't mind hearing a bit more of the song in question, it gets the point, but if I'd already had enough after the allotted thirty seconds, then it doesn't get the point.

"Misery". D+. Is this the first time that a "Glee" episode featured a "cold" opening and launched directly into a song? If so, why did it have to be a paint-by-numbers Maroon 5 song? I was thoroughly bored, but at least they finally addressed the issue of the Warblers being Blaine's backup singers.

"Only Child". No point. Yes, that's enough about Rachel's totally trivial ego-driven problems. You tell her, Finn. This scene was hugely important for the episode, of course, because it advanced the original song storyline, where Rachel needs to stop delivering fake emotion and tap into how she really feels if she's going to write a great song that gives New Directions any chance of winning. But I'm judging just the song here.

"Blackbird". C-. This was pretty much the definition of the type of song Chris Colfer shouldn't be singing -- a song that requires sweetness and subtlety above all else, and absolutely requires the singer to refrain from any and all embellishment. He sounded good and the harmonies were a nice touch, but the shoe didn't fit stylistically. Plus, he sung it literally in honour of a stupid bird.

However, this did lead to the A+ Blaine/Kurt first kiss, so yet again we have a subpar performance that was nonetheless completely necessary to advance the storyline.

"Trouty Mouth". No point. Yes, the mouth jokes are way, way, old.

"Big Ass Heart". No point. Wait, Lauren dug this but hated "Fat Bottomed Girls"? I'm confused. Brian Setzer may soon be suing "Glee" for ripping off "Stray Cat Strut", if it comes to pass then you heard it here first.

"Hell to the No". Point! This was money. Fun, but Mr. Schue was right, it's not Regionals material. This was really one of the best written episodes they've ever done, in that everything tied together so well.

"Jesus Is My Friend". No point. The whole "Sue coaches Aural Intensity" plotline really went nowhere, didn't it?

"Candles"/"Raise Your Glass". B. Choosing "Candles" was a major strategic error for The Warblers. If you're going to perform a duet, then why pick a song by an unknown band that hardly anybody would have heard because it was only released a few weeks ago? As for the performance, their voices didn't mesh well, and the boy/girl vocal dynamic simply wasn't there. And obviously Kurt's extended solo Celine Dion medley that won the cheerleading national championship last year has been erased from history.

However, choosing Pink's "Raise Your Glass" was a great decision. Earlier in the year, they had an entire episode about anthems and the importance of picking a great anthem for Regionals. "Raise Your Glass" is a fantastic anthem, and they nailed this half of the performance.

In the end, the Warblers lost because they put personal issues ahead of doing what it took to win. They couldn't decide on an artistic direction for their set, and were arguing about song choices, styles, and soloists right up until the end. Blaine and Kurt were more focused on each other than on winning the competition, and in Blaine's case, he chose to sing "Candles" because performing with Kurt became more important to him than choosing a song that would give them a much better shot at winning Regionals. They didn't win, but they're both "winners" because they have each other ... yep, that's as corny as it can possibly get, but it's also simple and effective romantic storytelling that works almost every time.

"Get It Right"/"Loser Like Me". A. OK, the outcome here wasn't exactly in doubt because obviously New Directions wasn't going to lose with seven episodes left in the season. The build to Regionals has been horrible, in that there wasn't the slightest bit of urgency surrounding the competition. But they did get one thing right -- Rachel's ongoing quest to recover some purpose in her life, post-Finn. And in the end, she did exactly what she said she was going to do: "focus on her career", write a great song, and win the day at Regionals. Blaine and Kurt couldn't win, but they have each other. Rachel is all alone, but stuck to the game plan and executed even though nobody (except for Finn) thought she could do it. It's beautiful storytelling, it really is. Simple and effective when done right.

These two songs have been floating around the internet for weeks, but I always make a point of not hearing "Glee" songs until the episode airs. I had serious doubts about whether they could make original songs work, but they delivered the goods, big time. "Get It Right" was a perfect vehicle for Lea Michele, and "Loser Like Me" not only captures the essence of gleek, but is also ridiculously catchy (is there anything Max Martin can't do these days? Everything he touches is a hit). And yeah, it's the anthem they were searching for during the previous weeks. These two songs -- but especially "Loser Like Me" -- accomplished what a season worth of meandering plotlines couldn't. It felt like the culmination of something.

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